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Chp 11 Charms and Thralls

 

“A demon’s fire changes all,
The Old Returns,
Love Alone can break the Thrall,
Passion Burns,
Past and present merged must be
By Love, desire and need times three”

 

In the darkest reaches of demon life, the one who would long in the future be called The Master was just beginning his reign. The face that would slowly turn into a skull like mask was now cruelly good-looking, but the thin lips and yellow eyes never changed. He was walking slowly through a Saxon settlement towards the squat shape of the church the inhabitants had recently built from roughly hewn stone. Bodies lay in every direction; screams still rang out from where his companions were enjoying themselves in a sea of blood and terror.

He’d already been alive for a very long time, working his way surely upwards through the ranks of the Aurelius Clan by destroying anyone who opposed him. Now, with this massacre, he had reached his rightful place as Head. There was only one thing stopping him from fully enjoying his day, but within a few minutes the last young monk who worked in the church would be dead – or, wait, perhaps he would turn him. That would be amusing – for a while.

In the depths of the crypt under the church, Brother Francis scrubbed at his runny nose with the back of his hand. He was shaking and scared, knowing that he was going to die. He wasn’t afraid of death itself: he’d often dreamed of being a martyr like those Christians who’d been fed to the lions in Rome. No, it was the manner of his death that terrified him. He knew what was coming for him, what had devastated all the villages for miles and he had no defence against it. Even now he could run – he’d already pushed aside the great stone that was covering the entrance to a passageway that cut through the rock and came up on the beach, miles away. But he couldn’t go – not yet.

He stared at the tiny old man who was sitting, writing at the table. He was the oldest man Brother Francis had ever seen, wizened and wrinkled, his fingers like twigs as he wrote. “Hurry! Oh please, hurry!” Brother Francis moaned and the old man looked up sharply.

“I can’t stop him now,” he muttered, his milky blue eyes very bright in the wrinkled apple face as he gazed into a future only he could see. “The only thing I can do is stop him and his kind in the far distant future. This charm needs a special vampire and – ” he frowned and shuddered – “a female who feels no fear.”

Brother Francis was jolted out of his misery. “A woman! How could a weak woman fight that – that monster?”

The old man forced his gnarled hand to write faster. “Not just the monster, but what he begets,” he muttered. “She will be here when needed and with the help of a vampire, she will break the Thrall. She will be strong.”

The quill spluttered to a halt as the crashing of a door in the church above sent the blood draining from Brother Francis’ face. The old man held out the book. “Take it! Go quickly. Show it to the new priest who will be here. Next year a vampire will rise, a Slayer will come and this demon will be defeated once and for all.”

Brother Francis pushed the book inside his robe and fled, his sandals making no noise on the stones. He’d only gone a hundred yards into the dark when he heard a high-pitched scream behind him and knew the demon had found the old man. And he ran and ran, not realising that the book had slipped from his sleeve as he entered the tunnel, falling unnoticed behind a pile of old parchments.

So there was nothing to give to the new priest the following year and a Slayer who couldn’t read or write and knew nothing of charms, Thralls and prophecies began her own dance with a vampire but their story ended all too quickly with blood and fangs. The book was lost, its message forgotten and the master demon became The Master…..

… Buffy and William were sitting in a dark cold tunnel leading out of the Magic Box basement. She pressed herself against the stone wall, trying to cool her burning body with the stone and damp earth. Just a few inches away, a faint wash of light filtered down from a grating high above them and she could see William, his head buried on his arms and knew, instinctively, that he was fighting the same urges she was – to bite and fight and make him take her.

She gripped her hands around her knees and struggled to control the feelings that coursed through her, because she knew they weren’t real. It was as if she was being driven by a desire that inhabited her body but wasn’t hers.

“This is madness,” she heard William gasp and saw him start to get up, then half throw himself back down again. “What spell can drive a man mad like this?”

“It’s the Demon Charm. It must be. I want –I want – you! Now!” Before she could stop herself, she was in his arms, tearing at his T-shirt, desperate to touch him. His hands struggled free long enough to snare in her hair and for a long second they swayed, overwhelmed by desire. Then, slowly, inch-by-inch, they forced themselves apart. Buffy was panting as she looked at his face. She knew the struggle she could see on his face was mirrored on hers.

“Why – why is this happening?” William groaned. “I want you so much, but not in the right way. I have to fight this. I will not succumb to this burning desire.”

Buffy sought desperately in the red mists of passion that were flowing through her brain. “It’s the Charm,” she said at last, increasing the pressure on William’s hands, keeping the distance between them. “This is the passion that burns.”

“But what is it for?” William sounded desperate. Buffy felt a flash of pity surge through her. She had had years of learning to control her feelings. William had had none. The roller-coaster of emotions he’d experienced in the last couple of days – waking up in a different century, a different country and a different body must have been shattering for him. And now this.

“I don’t know. We need to go back to the Magic Box. I can’t fight The Master in this state.”

Reluctantly she let go of his hands and they stumbled back down the passage. Buffy’s skin was burning and she felt sick with lust. But she found if she didn’t look at William, it was a little easier. They reached the basement just as Willow came skimming down the stairs towards them. “Buffy! William! Oh god, are you all right? Buffy, the Charm – it mentions a Thrall – I knew I’d read something about it before. What – what’s the matter?” She skidded to a halt and stared at the couple that were standing, fists clenched, not looking at each other.

Buffy felt another wave of heat flood across her face, but this time it was of embarrassment. How could she tell Willow or any of the others what the charm was doing to her and William?

But the witch seemed to understand. “Buff, you don’t need to say anything. The pictures in the book, the words – oh geez – ”

“Will – ” Buffy forced out the words. “Why is it doing this?” She sank down onto the floor, her legs refusing to hold her up any longer. William slumped onto the basement steps and stared at the redhead, great drops of sweat standing out on his forehead.

The witch pulled out the ancient book from her pocket. “Buffy, this is where I saw the Thrall mentioned. It’s an incredibly old book. All parchment. A lot of it is indecipherable, all faded and torn. But a few pages are quite clear, the Latin readable. Look - these few lines, this is the Demon Charm in Latin and- ” She hesitated, looking flustered. “I won’t show you the illustrations in the rest of the book but, Buffy, they’re so explicit and – ”

Buffy groaned. “Please, I so do not need any prompting in that direction at the moment! Just tell us what’s happening.”

Willow took a deep breath. ‘The Demon Fire charm was written by someone trying to rid the world of The Master and all the Aurelians, once and for all.”

“Well, grading on a scale of A to E, I give him an F for Fail,” Buffy said. “So someone wrote the first charm that Xander found. Then, what, he wrote the Thrall thingy it mentions as well?”

Willow shook her head violently. “No, that’s where we went wrong. The Thrall is what brings The Master back every time he’s killed. This book is far older than the one containing just the Demon Fire charm. Remember the words, Buff, “Love Alone can break The Thrall, Passion Burns,”

“Miss Willow, we thought the Thrall referred to what made me come forward to this time, this body. Now you say it does not?” William asked quietly.

“Exactly! The Thrall has nothing to do with you taking over Spike’s body, William. I thought it did – we all thought it did. But it never made complete sense. Let’s face it, what we read was a medieval English translation of these much older Latin words. How could a charm rely on a stinky Tazksha demon being around just when you wanted one? Anya mentioned that to me right at the beginning when we started researching.”

She hesitated. “OK, saying this very quickly, but Anya was right and I was wrong! There. I’ve said it. Spike was burnt by the Tazksha’s acid and you appeared. But that had nothing to do with the Thrall! We’ve all been misinterpreting the charm.”

Buffy moaned softly. “Will, my head is about to explode. Just explain it all in simple words. Please!”

“I thought I had.” The witch sounded hurt. “OK, Spike burnt by Tazksha. William arrives which confused us and sent us down the wrong path when Xander found the Demon Fire charm and we think it's what is needed to get Spike back. You see fire in graveyard where the Master’s ground up bones were probably scattered. So we think, correctly, that the Old is going to Return. Then I find this book, which explains that the Thrall is the….the whole process that brings the Master back. It describes what happens. The demon fire is the beginning but then for the Master to rise again, something else has to happen. And that involves - well it shows two figures who are clearly a Slayer and a vampire, doing – having – okay, moving right along! So the Thrall shows you the problem but the charm gives you the answer. Whoever wrote this must have been a very clever, clever man. Last time, well, some Slayer had obviously killed him in the past but because they hadn't known about the Thrall, they hadn't completed the charm. And then you killed him before he was completely whole again, I think. And anyway, you didn't have any tame vampires around."

There was a long silence.

Buffy was slowly beginning to understand. She grasped at the one clear point. “You mean that the demon fire we saw the other night has infected William and me? Given us these – ” she hesitated.

“Feelings!” William said hoarsely, risking a swift look at her, resisting the urge to take her there and then on the basement floor.

“Yes, and Buffy, it’s those feelings that feed the Thrall. If you give in to it and have sex with William, then the Thrall gets stronger and stronger and the Master appears.”

“So it’s nothing to do with Spike,” Buffy whispered, half to herself.

“No, sorry, Buffy. Nothing at all to do with Spike. The Tazksha burning him was just a coincidence. If the two of you had just been here in Sunnydale, the reaction would have been the same. This book makes it clear that the Thrall needs a vampire and a Slayer to be – well, having sex. It feeds off that energy and through that the Master rises.”

Buffy turned her back on William. It was easier if she didn’t look at him. She wished suddenly that Spike was here. William was great, but in this sort of battle, she needed Spike by her side. “What did you mean about killing the Master and all the Aurelians?” she said slowly, Willow’s words beginning to filter down through the scarlet mists of desire that still surrounded her.

“As I said, whoever wrote it - some old monk, I reckon - was very clever. He knew that if some Slayer ever killed him, the Thrall would cause the Master to rise again, so he wrote the Demon Fire charm to tell the Slayer of the day what she must do once that has happened. ‘Past and present merged must be’ it says. “By love, desire and need times three.” OK, haven’t quite worked out the exact meeting of that last line, but I’m working on it. I think it means that, whoever is responsible for breaking the Thrall will also be the one to kill The Master and all the present day Aurelians.”

Buffy turned to stare at her friend, trying to ignore William sitting on the basement steps. “OK, making more sense now. ”

“But Buffy, Miss Willow, I fear I am in no state to fight anything,” William said tersely. “All I want to do is – ”

“Yes, we know exactly what you want to do,” Buffy interrupted hurriedly. “Just keep thinking about something else. And don’t look at me! It helps. But Will, he’s right. I couldn’t swat a fly feeling like this. It’s bad, really bad – I’ve never experienced anything like it – ”

She was past embarrassment now, past being horrified. She was sick with anger, raging that her innermost emotions were being manipulated in such a way. What should be an expression of how she felt for a man, for someone she loved, was now just sex, lust, a demeaning physical experience. She felt dirty and diminished, used.

“What happens now?” William asked suddenly. “Perhaps I had better go back to the house. If we’re apart, then nothing can happen and this Master demon will not rise.”

“OK,” Buffy said. “That’s a plan. Makes sense. I’ll stay here and help Willow research, you go home, William.” She turned to see Willow staring at her, biting her lip, her eyes round and anxious. “What?”

“Buffy, I’m sorry, but don’t you see – you have to stay together. In fact, you have to – ” she went very red, “you and William have to, well, be together. Because if the Master rises again, the two of you can fulfil the Demon Fire charm and kill him once and for all.”

To be continued

 

Note: I realise that the Charm and Thrall aspects are complicated. Do let me know if I can in some way make them any simpler!